Truth be told, the five guys have been great — respectful, fairly quiet, and aside from some parking problems, terrific neighbors. And since they moved in next door, I've remembered the house I lived in when I was in college. There were five of us, too. We were pretty good guys, but we were still college kids — cars everywhere, lots of coming and going, late hours, and good music.
One morning after we have been "toilet papered," the trees held long strips of flowing "decoration" and the house was literally wrapped around with toilet paper. Bits of paper littered the lawn, toilet paper intertwined in the leaves of our shrubs, whole rolls wrapped our cars, and long streamers blew through the trees only to settle in white clumps on the ground.
Not too far into that morning, the phone rang. It was the little old lady from next door. She was upset because some of our "delicate tissue" was all over her yard. We weren't sure at first what she was talking about; then it dawned on us that our house had been "decorated" while we slept. She was nice, but it was also clear that she would have much preferred for five college boys to live somewhere else. We were respectful and cleaned up the yard, but realized that despite what we might think of our fine selves, we definitely were not the most desired neighbors on the street.
Then one night the little lady next door knocked on the door very upset and seemingly disoriented. Actually, she was asking for help. Several of the guys dropped everything and ran next door. She was obviously flustered and didn't know what to do. Her husband was quite pale, lying on the bed, and barely moving. One of the boys called for an ambulance. Another tried to stay with her and calm her down. The other one of us went to wait by the curb and wave down the ambulance. Meanwhile, the guy on the phone then called one of her friends to meet her at the hospital.
The ambulance pulled up with lights flashing and took the little old man to the hospital. A couple of our guys drove his wife to the hospital. The others of us turned on lights and locked up her house for her and said a prayer. A couple of guys stayed at the hospital till friends came to be with her. Thankfully, the little old man recovered from his heart attack and came home about a week later. We let them know we were there if they ever needed us ... any time — day or night.
Needless to say, we didn't receive any more calls about "delicate" tissues and pretty soon all the people on the street knew about the "nice boys" in the brown ranch house. I can assure you, we did not become a quieter brood after that, but folks knew more about our hearts and gave us the benefit of the doubt.
Life places strange neighbors together — like loud boys in their early twenties next to a quiet couple in their eighties. In His sovereign grace, God places even stranger neighbors together in Scripture. Go read the Gospel of John, chapters 3 and 4. Notice all the incredible differences between these two people. There couldn't be any more mismatched neighbors. Yet there they are! A man and a woman ... a leader and someone powerless ... a religious teacher and a religious outcast ... a Jew and a hated half-Jew ... someone so important he had to come at night and someone so outcast she came alone at midday. Yet if you read their stories, you realize that despite their differences, they both knew they needed something more ... something of God that they couldn't get from their day-to-day lives, their run-away relationships, or their stuck-in-a-rut religious responsibilities. And they found what they needed in Jesus. He brought light to their darkness and water to their parched souls. Jesus was better than something new: Jesus was someone fresh that brought the Breath of heaven and the opportunity for new starts. They left behind their darkness and empty water bucket to follow Jesus.
Most of us would look at Nicodemus and the unnamed woman at the well and never pick them out as potential neighbors, much less as fellow-followers of Jesus. Clearly, our horizons are often too narrow and our prejudices are just too deep to put such widely divergent people together. Yet Jesus entered their worlds and listened ... and Jesus didn't just listen to their words; the Lord listened for their hearts. Jesus was tender and tough. He was tactful and forceful. But most of all, Jesus was patient and gently prying as He listened for their needs and as they shared their wounds and yearnings. Then He spoke words of truth to them when they were ready. Woman followed immediately and brought her whole village to faith (John 4:39-42). Nicodemus took some time, but he eventually showed his faith in Jesus by defending him before the ruling council (John 7:45-52) and associating himself with Jesus after the crucifixion (John 19:38-42), just as Jesus had said (John 3:13-21).
Who in your world, who among your neighbors at work or home or school, has God placed near so their hearts can be heard and their needs, wounds, and yearnings can be heard? Who are the neighbors that Jesus sent you to hear? Jesus didn't just come to save the world (John 3:16-17), He also came to call us to partner with Him in the mission of grace:
Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you" (John 20:21 TNIV).
Please take a look at Phil's blog for more on this topic including a video: